Hong Kong restaurant Otera’s impressive dessert tasting experience highlights underappreciated ingredients

And while I love the over-the-top, fast-paced Instagram reels of insanely talented pastry chefs like Cedric Grolet and chocolatiers like Amaury Guichon creating impossible architectural feats out of sugar and spice, I honestly feel that they cannot actually taste all that nice.
A maple pancetta flan cake from Otera. Photo: Otera
So when I received a message recently from Otera – a boutique cake shop I had bought from before – spotlighting its new dessert tasting experience at their North Point premises on Hong Kong Island, I was struck by the simplicity of the name: Unsung.

It seemed the complete opposite of all the noise happening in the world of desserts lately – a long, slow meditative breath rather than a deranged monologue delivered at a breakneck Gen-Z cadence.

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Otera is the creation of award-winning pastry chef Joanna Yuen, who previously worked at Nobu – at what was previously The InterContinental Hong Kong – and one-Michelin-star restaurant Ando in Central.

Yuen opened Otera in summer 2023, with her unique flan cakes as a flagship item, before expanding the offerings to include cookies, brioche and even mooncakes.

Customers pre-order their desserts online and can opt to collect them in person at Otera’s harbour-facing atelier, where they are invited to partake in a tea and wagashi – traditional Japanese confectionery – ritual as a token of appreciation.

Now Yuen is planning to invite customers deeper into her world. The two-hour tasting session seats up to six guests in a small but elegant space, which feels a bit like being inside a Muji catalogue.

Herb of grace, also known as common rue, features in a refreshing dessert by Yuen. Photo: Charmaine Mok

“The unnoticed. The underappreciated. The undervalued. The silent one who sometimes make the loudest impact. This menu celebrates the humble and modest ingredients that, for many reasons, do not get recognised or mentioned, but have elevated tremendously the dishes they are a part of. I call them the unsung heroes,” writes Yuen in the introduction to the menu.

The courses are enigmatic, highlighting each “unsung” ingredient by name only: among them are herb of grace (also known as common rue), fungus, cocoa, ume plum and jyounamagashi – a traditional Japanese “petit four”.

Yuen opens the tasting with an impressive duo of banana-flavoured amuse-bouches. The first is a banana and caviar tart, a light reference to a historical pairing favoured by Russian oligarchs. She also points out that while the ingredient is normally seen as a sweet item, it is actually used in a lot of savoury preparations – curries, for example – as a thickener.
A “creamy but not creamy” banana and whisky truffle. Photo: Charmaine Mok

In a nod to that, she created a banana and whisky truffle where the fruit is used in place of cream. The resulting texture is, as Yuen suggests, creamy but not creamy – an unexpected delight.

Herb of grace is described as a resilient herb, highly affordable and incredibly fragrant – it is an overlooked flavour that often gives mung bean sweet soup its unique complexity. She chose to pair it with citrus, specifically hyuganatsu, a hybrid fruit from Japan that has a delicate perfume and an edible, sweet rind, and created a very delicate mochi that gently unfurls on the palate.
Sweet and savoury combinations are usually a tightrope walk, and Yuen’s dark chocolate sourdough served with a miso crumble and garlic butter seems an improbable pairing at first.
The chocolate sourdough served with a miso crumble and garlic butter is an unusual but successful combination at Otera. Photo: Charmaine Mok
Eighty-five per cent dark chocolate is peppered throughout the loaf, which is baked in a kind of double oven – the dough goes into a classic Cantonese vessel normally used for claypot rice, then covered with a steel bowl and placed into a conventional oven.

The dusting of cocoa powder could be less liberal (be prepared to make a mess of the perfect wood tabletop, and expect to use plenty of wet wipes after) but there is no denying the textbook-perfect crust and airy crumb – ideal as is, but taken to a weird and wonderful new plane thanks to the intensely savoury miso crumb and garlic butter.

As always, Yuen is in a state of constant assessment and self-improvement – and having followed her career for a number of years, I recognise her sense of motivated perfectionism that has been paying dividends.

Yuen opened Otera in summer 2023. Photo: Joanna Yuen

Some things that did not work out were less about the desserts – the tea quickly cooled in its unheated glass pot, and the austere slice of Japanese melon served with an apple and olive oil jyounamagashi was not quite as ripe as it should have been.

It is a solid beginning, and by showcasing the quiet power of unsung ingredients, Otera is actually speaking volumes.

Otera’s dessert tasting is currently under development, and Yuen hopes to make it available to the public by the end of 2024.

Otera, Unit 03, 21/F, Technology Plaza, 651 King’s Rd, North Point


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